As part of Sex Addiction treatment, the disclosure process can be a painful and excruciating experience for both the partner and the sex addict. In the long run, however, a well-done disclosure can strengthen and improve a relationship.
A Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) attends approximately two years of training, as well as supervision by a CSAT supervisor, before becoming certified. An important part of CSAT training specifically addresses how to prepare the sex addict and his/her partner for a disclosure.
(Because the majority of sex addicts are male (75%), in this article I will use the pronoun “he” for the addict and “she” for the partner. It is important, however, to realize that addiction is not gender-biased. Even if the addict states he never acted out sexually with another person, we recommend STD testing for both the sex addict and partner.)
Many sex addicts fear that, if they disclose fully, their partners will leave them or won’t be able to psychologically handle what is revealed. This often becomes an excuse for the addict to withhold pertinent information.
Yet the ability to start rebuilding a relationship is based on a foundation of trust and honesty. We know through experience and research that, when information is withheld, it can be destructive to the relationship. Piecemeal disclosures keep the partner in a state of suspicion, anger and fear. Sexual behaviors that are illegal, that could put the partner’s health at risk, or that place financial hardship on a household, make the timeliness of the disclosure important. Disclosures that are not thorough, or are indefinitely postponed, can be as destructive as the addictive behavior itself.
For the partner, an unplanned or painful disclosure by a sex addict can be highly destructive and alarming. Major concerns for partners are children who may be affected, legal concerns, and the impact on finances, as well as the addict’s employment status. Partners need to be properly prepared to receive a disclosure, and she needs to know that she can ensure the safety of herself and their children.
Most addicts lie to cover their tracks for fear that, if the partner discovers the truth, she will never forgive him and/or will leave him. The fear of losing her motivates him to lie more than anything else.
Children can be adversely affected by their parents’ interactions and know that something isn’t right, which may create a great deal of anxiety for them. Some children may attempt to repair what they believe is happening by being the “perfect child,” and other children may become so overwhelmed that they begin to act out in school and at home. Once the parents begin to address their relational issues, it becomes important to also address issues that have developed in their children.
Preparation for a full disclosure can take up to four to six weeks and involves each partner working with his/her therapist in individual sessions. A formal disclosure can be highly emotionally charged and is conducted in a two-hour therapy session with the therapist for each partner present. It’s the goal of each therapist to keep the environment safe so that this important work can be done properly.
Both partners are scheduled to return to their therapist after the formal disclosure session to process their feelings and thoughts and, if needed, to prepare for a couple’s clarification session to allow the partner to share the impact the disclosure had on her and to ask further questions regarding what she heard during the formal disclosure. The idea is to provide the partner with clear and concise information that will allow her to make informed decisions about their future relationship.
The preparatory work with the addict begins with a timeline of his sexual history from the time he was born through his current age. This becomes the foundation for doing the disclosure and is shared with his therapist prior to him writing his disclosure.
Written disclosures consist of simple statements that include dates, what took place, where, how often, and the financial costs involved. Disclosures do not include lengthy details, descriptions of individuals, or names of the people that might be involved — unless it is a close friend, relative, co-worker, or neighbor.
The disclosure can cause a crisis in a couple’s relationship. Partners may experience distrust of the addict, depression, fear of abandonment, loss of self-esteem, decreased ability to concentrate or to function at work, anger, and a lack of sexual desire. In most cases, with therapeutic help, this crisis eventually passes.
As difficult as it is, more than 90% of couples in one study reported they were glad they did disclosure. When the disclosure is done with integrity, the partner often feels validated that her suspicions were correct and that she isn’t crazy. The addict feels a sense of freedom from the secret life and relief from the shame. A well-trained CSAT therapist will help a couple with all phases of preparing for and completing the formal disclosure process in order to further relationship healing.
Dan Crockett, M.S., LMHC, CAP, CSAT-S